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My country

Of all the countries I’ve lived or visited, I love Ireland best. Perhaps I always will.

Of course, I am shamelessly biased. Partly I find comfort in the familiar; or it may have something to do with the smell. That is what first hit me fresh off the plane at Kerry Airport; specifically, the bucolic bouquet of sheep shit.

I have always likened New Zealand to Ireland (or the other way round, according to your allegiance), but the Kiwi landscape, although similar to Ireland, has more style and glamour. It has a better frame: the mountains are higher; the valleys are lower; the lakes are deeper; the sea a keener blue.

Yet Ireland has a shabby charm that will always endear me. There are still roads the Ordnance Survey classifies as B-grade, which are barely tarmacadamed tracks fortified with grass. You expect to round a corner and find a pipe-smoking countrywoman churning butter. Farms are commonly delineated by hedgerows.

But it is the interplay of weather and light that casts a unique spell. The good days are beautiful, but the changeable days are magic. If you don’t believe in leprechauns, banshees and fairies, you can understand the origins of the mythology. When the elements can’t decide what to do, they just throw the whole lot at you.

Apparently, the Irish summer has been terrible. The weather brings out a touch of the obsessive compulsive in the Irish, so every time they’ve spoken to me over the last few months, my parents have bemoaned it at length.

“The weather is pure bitter,” my mother would say in grief-stricken tones. “Feckin rain. We had a day there – Tuesday – or, it could have been Sunday – and the sun came out for three hours in the morning. No, now that I think about it – wait – it was the afternoon. And I think it was Monday. That was it; that was our summer. Three feckin hours long.”

When I arrived in Ireland last week, I refused to believe them.

“You brought the sunshine with you,” said my mother, darkly. “It won’t last, mark my words.”

Well, given the country’s reputation, her prediction was safe enough. After three days of stuttering sunshine, it has been inclement.

Shortly after I arrived, Danny and I walked up to Curraghmore Lake from the Black Valley. The Black Valley lakes were still underneath a moody sky. It remained grim until we reached the lake, when the sun illuminated great tracts of surrounding landscape. We watched the scudding clouds buffet the sun, but it never quite managed to reach us.

Two days ago, I stood on top of a hill in a sun shower, looking out on billowing veils of rain to the north and bright sunshine to the west, bound by a full rainbow.

If these photos don’t speak a thousand words, I apologise for the photographer’s incompetence.

Blackberries

24 September – blackberry pickers stalk their prey

Star blackberry eater

25 September – gatepost near Bunane Bridge

Church at Bunane. Composition inspired by The Incredible Di Mackey

B-grade road: the pass between Lackabane and Castle Rock

26 September – as we drove into the Black Valley, Danny said: “Look! What’s that?” And there on top of a ridge, a horse was silhouetted against the sky. We expected it to rear up on its hind legs and let forth a terrible neigh that would spread terror into the hearts of horse and human alike. But it just nibbled on some rock and then wandered off to stand on another

The Black Valley, Lough Cumeenduff from the south road

Danny foraging for doughnuts at Curraghmore

Curraghmore Mountain hogs the sun

1 October – Old Kenmare Road after rainfall; coming out of Torc Forest

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, from the Old Kenmare Road

On the Kerry Way looking north, to the east of Windy Gap

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